Are private fleets about to hit a wall?

By ·

The most contentious issue
No trucking topic evokes a hotter response than the proposed HOS rules that were formally proposed in a rulemaking set out by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on Dec. 23.

The government has been fiddling with HOS revisions since 1999. In that time, the industry has endured at least two changes, and the federal government has fought at least three lawsuits challenging the propriety of its proposed changes. Throw in three changes in administrations—with Republicans likely to be perceived as softer on the industry than Democrats—and the result is utter confusion when it comes to any type of long-term planning.

The federal government is due to come out with a final rulemaking this summer that could reduce the actual driving time of an operator from 11 to 10 hours. In addition, there are proposed changes requiring more half-hour breaks during a driver’s on-duty time, current 14 hours in a day. That could also reduce productivity. But there are provisions that would allow the standard 14-hour window to be extended to 16 hours twice every eight-day driving period.

Just the thought of reducing driving time by one hour causes trucking executives to break out their pocket calculators to estimate the cost and inefficiencies that would result. That’s because their networks are built typically on a series of regional distribution centers, serviced by TL and LTL moves, typically with “pedal runs” of about 200 miles to 400 miles—easily accomplished in one day’s driving.

If that driving time is reduced, analysts say, it would be nothing short of chaos. Dick Armstrong, chairman of Armstrong Associates, a supply chain management consulting company, predicts a one-hour reduction would be “very disruptive.”

The biggest immediate impact of HOS will likely be the cost and the increasing calls to end the 70-year-old outdated practice of paper log books, often called “comic books” by drivers and industry officials.

Shaw Industries was among the first private fleets to recognize that the government was going to crack down on HOS, forcing violators to use electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) instead of paper logs to track hours. The company was an early adaptor and has used electronic logging for nearly a decade.

“I wish they were mandated for all carriers,” Whisenhant says. “I’m already running legally, but am competing on backhauls with some drivers who are shaving a 30 minutes here and 30 minutes there off their actual driving time. It isn’t fair.”

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About the Author

John D. Schulz
John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. John is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis.

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Article Topics

CSA · HOS · March 2011 · Transportation · Trucking · All Topics
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